Title: SVS-10: Into the Jungle
Email address: FiveSenses@egroups.com
Series/Sequel: The Sentinel Slash Virtual Season
Category: Series: The Sentinel Slash Virtual Season, Drama
Author's website: http://www.squidge.org/5Senses
Disclaimer: This story is an episode of The Sentinel Slash Virtual Season (SVS), produced by FiveSenses, Inc. SVS is based on characters and concepts developed by, and belonging to, Pet Fly Productions. This story is intended for private, personal enjoyment only. No money is being made, or will be allowed to be made, by the author of this story or by FiveSenses, Inc. from the writing and distribution of this story. Any original characters introduced in an SVS episode belongs to the episode author and to FiveSenses, Inc. and should not be used without their permission.
Notes: Episodes of SVS may contain depictions of consensual m/m sex. These depictions may or may not be accompanied by specific mention of items necessary for safe and healthy intercourse. It is the intention of FiveSenses, Inc. and all SVS authors that, even when such items are not explicitly mentioned, their use is to be assumed as a matter of course. All of us at FiveSenses, Inc. are aware of the risks of unprotected sex in today's world and strongly advocate the practice of safe sex, including the use of condooms and other protective devices.
Summary: Jungle Warfare 2: The War Continues-with members of Major Crimes as targets!
This file is a sequel to SVS-09: Welcome to the Jungle.
SVS-09: Welcome to the Jungle is available at:
Into the Jungle
The woman sat quietly, her slender body impossibly still as cornflower blue eyes stared unseeingly out the small, somewhat grimy window. Behind her, on a small bed, a young man of about thirty sat and fidgeted, his thoughts in turmoil.
She was too quiet, too still and for far too long this time. It was too close to the way he'd first seen her in the hospital. Was she having a relapse? And was that a bad thing? He gave a nervous "huff" and wondered if he should try something again.
He'd been routinely attempting to bring her back but so far, nothing. Should he try something else? Yes, he should.
He got up and took two tentative steps toward the woman. When he was within reach, he rested a hand on her shoulder and whispered softly, "alex?" Then a bit louder, "Alex, can you hear me?"
Like all earlier attempts, this one failed.
Damn, he'd tried to remember everything she'd told him but he must be missing something. He frowned in concentration, then gripping the soft shoulder hard, digging his fingers into fragile flesh, he yelled, "ALEX, PAY ATTENTION!"
Not even a flicker of an eyelash. He might as well have been in a room with the dead.
He racked his brains and searched the small cabin for something that would trigger an idea. His eyes lit on the battered, dogeared mystery he was reading. In the hospital, before she'd come back from whatever world she'd been inhabiting, he'd sat for hours and read to her. Couldn't hurt now.
He picked up the book, dragged a chair over and sat down close. Holding the paperback in one hand and stroking her arm with his other, he began to read...
"I knew the man was evil the moment I caught a glimpse of the eyes. Cold, distant and dead. He would kill the girl without so much as blink of those lifeless shark eyes. I couldn't risk it..."
He continued to read, letting his voice take on an almost sing-song quality. He read four chapters, then onto the fifth...
"I had him in my sights. In a moment, a flash of time, he'd be dead. The evil would end and justice would be done. I realized I was holding my breath and that my hand was trembling slightly. Which was odd. I'd killed before, too many times to enumerate. Of course, the difference here was that I was about to take a life in cold blood. Shoot a man down. No warning, from my perch above his home. The second he stepped within my sight, within range, I had every intention of pulling the trigger. One bullet through the brain. Clean, quick and unfortunately-painless.
"But he would never have been caught, would never have gone to trial. He would never experience justice and the families of his victims would never know peace-nor would I. So I had no choice. I had to become all that I found to be an abomination... I had to beco..."
The man stopped mid-word. He glanced up quickly and found the woman staring at him, her eyes wide, cold and-lifeless.
"I-you-you were, what do you call it?" he stammered out.
She cleared her throat and swallowed before answering. "Zoned. I was zoned. How long?"
He checked his watch. "Over four hours."
Her eyelids dropped, then lifted. If possible, the pale orbs became even frostier. "Four hours? You couldn't help me for four hours?"
"I, I-did everything you told me, everything I could do, but nothing worked. Finally," he held up the book, "I started reading to you, like the hospital. That was almost an hour ago."
With difficulty, Alex Barnes stood, one pale hand clenching in frustration as she waved off the man's assistance. He was useless.
In the beginning, when she'd first come back to awareness, she'd believed it was because of him. But now she knew the truth. He wasn't anyone who could help her and she'd come around because her mind was stronger than anything the Temple of the Sentinels could do to her. It was that simple.
But-she still needed control-help-guidance.
God, such a simple word and much overused, but damn, it was appropriate. Months as a vegetable because of James Ellison.
Any pull or emotion she might have felt for the man was long gone now. The burning need to bond was dead, the need to possess, gone. And in its place-hatred. Pure, unadulterated hatred.
He could have helped her, kept this from happening, but he'd done nothing, had refused to go back to the pools, to take a chance, to see what she'd seen...
Alex stepped to the front door and swung it open. She took a deep, refreshing breath of the cold, bracing air. The man behind her, Todd Langdon, waited patiently. Alex smiled grimly.
Todd was nothing if not patient. She'd certainly learned that. And he was completely besotted. God only knew what he'd done to her while she'd been experiencing the mother of all zone-outs. And until now, she'd been willing to put up with him because she'd believed...
But he wasn't the one.
Which was fine, because she knew where the only one lived. The first step of her plan had failed and in her anger, she'd allowed herself to zone. Vince was dead and Ellison lived.
God damn them all. But she was smarter and would ultimately prevail. Had she not survived the Temple?
So it was time to rethink her plan. And to refigure Todd's place in it. Her grin widened in anticipation. She would leave a message that would confuse and terrify-and remind. She took another step out and raised her face to the bright winter sun.
"You heard the doctor, Ellison. Now stay put and I'll get your coffee."
"I'm not an invalid, Sandburg."
"No, you're not. Just a garden variety pain in the ass."
Jim smiled smugly. "Yeah, I am."
"God, you're actually proud of being a lousy patient."
Jim had been home from the hospital for twenty-four hours and was currently comfortably situated in the corner of the couch, relaxing in sweat pants and one of his old, cropped Cascade PD tee shirts. His white-socked feet were resting on the coffee table and he was feeling incredibly lucky, chipper and horny.
As Blair came to stand over him, eyes bright with mirth even as he tried to scowl, Jim reached up and pulled him down. Sandburg's body landed awkwardly over Jim's and as the older man wrapped his arms around a wiggling Blair, he said with a leer, "No, Chief, I'm proud to be a pain in the ass."
Laughing, Blair said, "I think Dr. Forrester might have underestimated your recuperative powers, Jim."
With some clever maneuvering Jim had Sandburg positioned to feel just how recuperative his powers really were.
"Well shit," Sandburg breathed out. "This can't be good for you, Ellison. Too soon, man."
Jim gave a small thrust and grinned again. "Too soon, eh?"
"I swear you have a one track mind. Alex Barnes is out there somewhere, you're barely on your feet, still reeling from the flu and a slight case of poisoning and all you can think about is..."
"Being a pain in the ass?"
"And you find this upsetting?" He punctuated his question with another small, well-aimed thrust.
"Ah god, Ellison, who knew sex mattered this much to you?"
Jim buried his face in hair and inhaled sharply as he pulled Blair's shirt out from under the waistband of his jeans. He slid his hand up Sandburg's back and smiled against Blair's ear as he felt the rise of goosebumps and the slight quiver of muscles.
"You matter this much to me, Chief."
Sandburg pulled back just enough to see Jim's face. He trailed one finger along Ellison's jawline as he said, "We need to make a pact, man. No more of this near death crap, you know?"
Eyes fixed on Sandburg's lips, Jim whispered, "to quote a wise woman, i hear that." He rested his lips lightly against Blair's, then flicked out his tongue. He licked at Blair's lips, then nudged his way inside.
They kissed long and deep, enjoying the sensation and drawing it out. Neither man made any move to go further, content to kiss, stroke and smile. Death had come too close-hovered too near-and both felt a desire to reconnect slowly and lovingly.
Blair had taken his kisses down a bit and was busy with Jim's neck when the phone rang. It was ignored-until the quiet authority of their Captain's voice penetrated.
"Ellison, Sandburg, pick up."
No other words were necessary. Blair was off Jim in a split second and a moment later was answering.
"Simon, what is it?"
"Barnes' accomplice has been found. I need you two here-now."
"On our way."
Jim was already headed upstairs as Blair put the receiver down.
Simon stared at the report and photos sitting in front of him. Across his desk sat Joel Taggert, his own hurting brown eyes fixed on one photo in particular. He was shaking his head in stunned disbelief.
Banks glanced up, surprised. He'd been so engrossed in the file, he'd failed to notice the arrival of his best team.
"Come in and shut the door, gentlemen."
Joel quickly vacated his chair in deference to Jim but the detective didn't move. He was frozen, eyes fixated on the paperwork under Simon's hand. Blair started around him but Jim shot out an arm and blocked his path. Puzzled, Blair stopped and quizzed, "Jim?"
Pale blue eyes lifted from the same picture that moments before had so thoroughly captured Joel's attention. Fixing that icy glare on his captain, he barked out, "What the hell..."
"Jim, sit down."
The words were said with the same quiet authority Simon had used on the phone.
Ellison blinked a couple of times, then walked over and took the offered chair. Joel quickly brought two others and he and Sandburg took their seats.
Simon wondered how he was going to do this. His fingers tapped lightly on the glossy surface of one of the photos. The truth and said quickly. Only way.
"The nurse that helped Alex escape has been found-dead. This morning at six-forty, at Rainier-in the-fountain. Face down."
Sandburg had been watching Jim closely, worried at the sudden pallor and shallow breathing; so Simon's words didn't immediately register, but the sudden clenching of Jim's jaw did. Simon spoke again and this time the words penetrated.
"There was another note."
"You have it here, Simon?" Jim's voice sounded remarkably cool and detached. Without a word, Simon handed over a cream colored piece of paper. Calm fingers took it and Jim read the bold printing:
THE JUNGLE IS FULL OF BITTERSWEET MEMORIES
Sandburg only had to lean a bit to read over Jim's arm and as he did, he frowned. Then Simon's earlier words hit him. His head jerked to Simon's desk as if pulled by a marionette's string. Eyes searched, found-and he took in a sudden, shocked breath. Jim turned at the sound and reached out a hand.
"I'm okay, Jim. I'm okay." Tortured eyes were lifted to Simon as Blair asked, "Why the fucking fountain? Why there and that way?"
It was Jim who answered, his voice soft but with an undercurrent of steel. "She's playing with us, Chief."
"Well then, I say we cancel the game. Called on account of rain."
"Somehow I doubt it'll be that easy, Chief."
"I'm afraid you're right, Jim." Blair turned his attention back to Simon and with a quick jerk of his head, indicated one of the photos. "May I see that, Simon?"
Banks hesitated, his glance flicking from Jim and back to Sandburg. In a slightly more firm voice, Blair said, "Simon, this isn't up to Jim."
The photo was slid over and Blair lifted it slowly.
The fountain, grey and angular, water gently striking a billowing tan jacket, hair spread out dark against the blue liquid, the water itself darkening as hands, pale hands seemed to be reaching out, the body bobbing lightly...
"How, who took..."
"The picture?" Simon finished for him. At Blair's nod, he answered, "That dark color around the body is blood. He was shot once in the left eye. He didn't-drown, Blair. Putting him in the fountain was just..."
This time it was Blair who finished. "Just window dressing. Just for fun, because she could."
Simon nodded. "That about says it."
The picture floated out of Blair's hand and he watched it slide a bit as it landed. He felt ill. Too many sudden emotions, and of course, the memories Alex had alluded to in her note. He really could have used a good five-hour meditation session. Or twenty. But he managed to control his breathing by concentrating on the man next to him.
They'd never spoken about it, but now-it was here again, a specter of their past, of their mistakes, and Simon's words in the hospital took on even greater meaning: Don't hurt each other...
Blair tore his gaze from Jim and looked searchingly at Simon. He was surprised to note the grey tinge around the eyes and lips-it was obvious how tense Simon was at the moment. But it was the older man's eyes that really surprised Sandburg. The brown eyes held anger and something more, something Blair couldn't identify.
"She has to be near."
Blair jerked his attention back to Jim as Simon responded, "But wouldn't you sense her?"
It was Blair who answered. "Not necessarily. If she's not actually in Cascade..."
Joel spoke for the first time. "So she could be out there, anywhere, ready to strike again?" He realized that Simon's question probably alluded to another facet of Jim's abilities-and since they'd all adopted the don't ask, don't tell credo, he decided to jump in with his own question as if he already knew why Jim should sense Alex. And he hoped that someday-he could ask.
"Yes. The question is," Jim mused, "who is she after? And what does she want this time?"
There were questions Sandburg wanted to ask his partner, needed to ask, but not here, not now, not with Simon and Joel present. But he hadn't counted on Simon.
"Jim, are you-you know-feeling anything-unusual?"
Okay, Blair thought almost humorously, that's getting to the meat of it.
Jim's fingers gripped the arm of the chair but he answered quietly, "No Simon, I'm feeling nothing but anger." He didn't bother to add, and hate. No need to unsettle his boss with this nagging need to strangle Alex Barnes with his bare hands.
Simon sat back, realizing that going any further with this line of questioning would serve no purpose-yet.
"So gentlemen, any ideas?"
"Forensics have the evidence?" Jim asked.
"As soon as he was identified, we took over, Jim. Serena has the clothing and Dan Wolfe the body. Connor is still working on Shaw. You might want to check in with both Serena and Dan, Jim. Give us your own unique spin on the evidence."
Jim stood with Blair following suit. "Guess we'd better get started then."
"Jim," Simon's voice was soft, concerned. "You okay to go?"
"I'm fine, Simon. And Sandburg here will keep me on the straight and narrow."
A sudden snort from Joel brought all eyes to him. He shrugged helplessly, a grin spreading across his features-and the absurdity of Jim's words hit the others. The temporary release of tension was just what the doctor ordered.
Simon chortled a bit and huffed, "Right, you hear that, Sandburg? You keep Jim on the straight and narrow. Got that?"
"I think that horse has gotten away from us, Simon, but hey," and he gave an exaggerated shrug. Jim shoved him out the door.
As it shut behind them, Joel looked at his friend, brown eyes serious once again. "You've never talked about it, Simon. Not once."
A finger dragged the photo of Todd Langdon back to rest in front of him. Staring at it, Simon said softly, "Even now, I don't think I can. He was dead, gone. But I can tell you this-when Jim turned at the head of the steps leading up to Hargrove Hall, when he turned to face the fountain, somehow knowing that Blair was," his finger tapped the photo, "there, in the water, well, it was unlike anything I'd ever witnessed. God, the way his body-" Simon swiped a hand over his eyes as if trying to erase the vision. He flipped the photo over on its face.
After what seemed an eternity, he gazed up at his friend. "We never talked about it, none of us, Joel. Not Connor, Rafe, Brown or I. And I've never said anything to Blair. Just couldn't."
There was a momentary pause, then Joel said, "You said he was gone, but of course..."
"No, Joel. He was-gone. The paramedics called it. He was dead by anyone's standard. Even with the sloppiest math, he had to have been in that watery-grave-for at least twenty minutes."
Simon blinked, once again trying to dispel the memory. "He was so pale when we pulled him out and so damn cold-so... so," but he couldn't go on.
"Then how the hell...."
"Don't ask, Joel. Just-don't ask."
"Where do we start, Jim? Forensics or the morgue?"
"The body. Swell. I just knew you'd say that."
Dan Wolfe pulled out the drawer housing the body of Todd Langdon but before removing the sheet, he looked carefully at Sandburg. "It's not the worst, Sandburg, but he was shot in the left..."
"I know, Dan, I'm fine. Just pull it."
Jim gave Wolfe a small nod and the sheet was unfolded. Once Langdon's body was revealed Dan left, having enough experience with Detective Ellison and his partner to know they required privacy.
Ellison slipped on a pair of gloves retrieved from his pocket and began his examination.
"He has faint bruising here," he indicated Langdon's left arm. He slipped off one glove and as he'd done in Sierra Verde, he ran one finger over the man's lips. There was no vision this time, but the faint trace of wax told him lipstick. As with Carl, she'd kissed Langdon just before killing him.
Jim wouldn't need the ballistic report to tell him the caliber of gun; the small, clean wound told him that. Alex must have been close, the gun maybe hidden in her hand. Langdon had been tall and she must have simply brought his head down, kissed him, then lifted her hand and fired, point blank.
Jim shook his head and a hand settled on his back. "I'm fine, Chief."
"I know." The statement was simple and full of confidence. Gratitude welled up within Ellison at the sound of Blair's voice. No doubt colored his tone, only love and trust.
Jim bent back to his task, lifting first the right hand, then the left, inspecting the palms and under the fingernails. While there was no evidence of a struggle, the hands could tell their own story and Jim wasn't disappointed. He found blisters on both palms, heavier on the right than the left. His sentinel sight caught flecks of what appeared to be paint chips, possibly from the handle of something.
He turned his attention to the fingernails. Dan had already scraped them, but Jim could see more. He pulled out a plastic bag, searched the room and spotted a tray of covered instruments.
"Chief, check over there for tweezers."
Blair moved quickly, lifted the blue sheet, spotted a pair and handed them to Jim. Ellison re-scraped under the nails, letting the brownish material fall into the bag. The rest of his examination was swift and yielded nothing significant.
After tearing off the gloves and dropping them into the wastebasket, Jim pulled the cover back over the body.
Blair rolled his eyes. "Jeesh, you can be a closed-mouthed bastard."
Jim smiled as he opened the door, allowing Blair to precede him.
The tagged bags containing Langdon's clothes lay on a table in Serena's lab. She, like Dan, had wisely left the two men alone. Jim started with the shoes.
Blair watched, fascinated, as Jim inspected the soles first, then with gloved hand used his fingers to flick pieces of what appeared to Sandburg to be dirt. As Jim picked some up and held it to his nose, Blair found himself as much in awe of Jim's abilities now as he'd been over four years ago.
"Pine trees. Spruce and... juniper."
"The mountains then?"
"That would be my guess. His soles are covered with pine needles, heavily ground in. And it fits with his hands."
"There were brand-new blisters and small chips of paint embedded in the skin-like maybe he'd been wielding an..."
"You got it, Chief. Chopping wood and I'm betting these clothes will reveal minute traces of shavings."
"I have got to buy you a deerstalker's cap."
Minutes later, Jim's suspicions had been confirmed. Bits of wood shavings, dirt and more pine needles were on the jeans, the shirt and the jacket. But unfortunately-the pockets were empty. Not surprising since Alex would never be so careless as to leave anything behind that could lead to her.
"Uh, Jim? If Alex is a sentinel again, would she have, I mean..."
"She doesn't care, Chief. She was careful to check his pockets, but wherever she is, she doesn't believe we can find her. And I suspect-she's moved on by now."
"Then what the heck are we doing..."
"No stone unturned, Darwin."
"Yeah, yeah, right. So now what?"
"You tell me."
"Well, she isn't perfect and I think she's insane. She'll make a mistake so I say we check Langdon's credit card records and check with Connor to see if Shaw owned any property in the mountains. Langdon too."
"Who said following me around all these years hasn't paid off?"
Blair glanced pointedly down and around, his gaze landing firmly on Jim's ass. "Oh, yeah, following you around has offered me a great view-of good detective work."
While Jim conferred with Connor, Blair took on the task of checking Langdon's credit cards. After almost an hour and not a little of the infamous Sandburg hacking, he'd managed to pull up the days since Langdon and Alex disappeared from Camarillo. The nurse had two cards: a Visa and an American Express Gold. Blair found one fuel purchase on the Visa-for twenty-six dollars the day the two had disappeared. The purchase had been made in Everett.
The Amex revealed even more. Three food purchases, one at a market in Everett and two at a general store in Woupuckett, a small, barely-there town north of Everett.
Blair glanced over at Connor's desk and found that Jim was standing and appeared finished. The two were talking softly as Megan handed Jim a sheaf of papers. A moment later, Jim was seated beside Blair.
"Time to compare notes, Chief."
"Right. Well, Langdon is no brain trust, Jim. He used his cards to purchase fuel and food in Everett and food in Woupuckett."
Jim frowned. "Never heard of it, Sandburg."
"It's a small town in the mountains, just north of Everett."
"That ties in with Connor's information. Shaw had a cabin in the mountains north of Everett."
Blair took in an exaggerated breath and said, "Um, I could use some fresh mountain air, couldn't you, Jim?"
"You read my mind. But you're staying here. I'm heading up with Connor."
Blair sat back, eyes narrowing dangerously. "I don't think so, Ellison. We're partners or we aren't. Nothing in between."
"Is that a threat?" Jim asked incredulously.
"In a word, yes. We don't separate because of perceived danger to one of us. We're a team-and for a damned good reason."
Jim's forehead creased as he thought about Blair's words. He had a vague idea of what Alex might be up to, an idea he'd chosen not to divulge earlier in Simon's office. It worried him because if he were right, what Alex now wanted, no-needed, was help. A guide. She hadn't found one in Langdon, but she knew exactly where she could. Almost as if reading his mind, Blair said quietly, "It's safer together, Jim. For both of us."
Trust and communication.
Jim nodded and stood. "Let's get going then."
Armed with directions provided by the world wide web, the two men headed up to a place called Elk Ridge, the site of the late Vince Shaw's cabin. The drive up was relatively easy, thanks to Washington weather cooperating for a change.
They drove through Woupuckett and began to search for the obscure cutoff to Elk Ridge. Jim spotted it and made a quick left onto a small dirt road. They hadn't traveled far before Jim pulled off road and cut the engine. It was time to hike in.
Sandburg took out the white noise generator and flipped the switch. Neither man expected to find Alex at the cabin, but precautions were in order, nevertheless. And while the white noise would work against Jim, he did still have his other senses. With stealth, they hoped that if Alex were here, they'd be able to sneak up on her. If she didn't sense Jim first. The whole thing was tricky, but their only option.
The hike to the cabin didn't take long and once within range, Jim signaled Blair, who turned off the generator. Jim listened and shook his head. "Nothing. No sound."
Still, they approached with caution, Sandburg a couple of feet behind Jim. There was no sign of life as the cabin came into view. Jim moved forward, gun drawn. He stepped up onto the porch and flattened himself against the wall next to the door. He waited, listened again, then with a swift kick, they were inside.
Jim crouched low, gun ready, but as he'd known all along, the cabin was empty. He holstered his weapon and waved Sandburg inside.
"She was here, so was Langdon."
"I can smell her. And the same aftershave I caught on Langdon's clothes. Chlorine and Old Spice-not my favorite."
For a moment, Jim stood in the middle of the small, one room cabin, eyes closed. Blair watched and felt his heart lurch. Was it happening now? Those-needs? Or maybe he was picking up something? Like another vision of Alex? And what of Alex was he smelling? Blair desperately wanted to ask, to know, but he held back, reined in his emotions and waited.
Eyes still closed, Jim said, "I don't know how long it's been empty."
"Try residual body heat." At Jim's frown, Blair added, "Your hand, over the furniture."
Jim nodded and slowly started moving, hand outstretched. At an old, decrepit rocking chair by one of only two windows, he stopped.
"Heat." He inhaled and nodded. "Alex. She sat here and not more than-two or three hours ago."
"Shit. We missed her by so little. She must have come back up here after leaving... hell, we could have passed her."
"I'd have known, Sandburg. I'd have spotted her."
Blair searched the handsome face and found only calm. There was no evidence of unease, threat or-anything else.
"Jim, I don't understand. Sure, you've had your senses dialed down until Simon called us in this morning, but still, you should be chomping at the bit. Hell, last time, before your feelings changed, you were almost crazy with the unrecognized threat to your territory. You were wigging out, man. And now-nothing."
Jim faced his partner, trying to read Blair's expression, to determine if Blair would understand-
"I don't completely get it, but don't think for a minute that I'm not feeling something here, because-I am. But it's entirely different."
Jim scratched the back of his head and tried to find the words.
"This-isn't easy to explain, Blair. To give you a concrete explanation." He paused, then took a deep breath and continued. "Last time, I didn't know what the danger was. I was reacting, as you said, out of some territorial imperative to protect my city, right?"
Blair nodded, uncertain where this was heading and even more uncertain if he wanted to know. But he said, "Yeah, your city and your stuff."
Jim smiled wryly. "Well, this time, it's different. It's more controlled, more-focused. There is only one danger, only one thing I have to protect." Suddenly he nodded, "Yeah, that's the best way to say it. I know I have to protect it."
"No, Chief. Our city is safe."
"Now don't go all psuedo-macho on me and don't get insulted, but everything I am says I must protect-you."
The hike back to the truck was completed in silence, both men deep in their own thoughts. The cabin had revealed nothing more than the knowledge that Alex had been there.
When they arrived at the truck, Blair noticed Jim's pallor. Without a word, he took the keys from the man's hand. A testament to Jim's exhaustion was the fact that he let Blair have them.
When they reached Woupuckett, Blair turned the truck into a parking lot behind a building that said "Chet's Diner". He cut the engine and before Jim could say anything, Blair answered the unspoken question. "You need to eat, Jim. Now."
Jim didn't have the energy to argue. Besides, he was hungry.
They entered the dimly lit diner and took a corner booth. There were a few patrons, all looking hearty and woodsy. Blair smiled, knowing damn well how he must look to them. Thank God he was at least wearing flannel.
They ordered burgers and cokes, with Blair adding a salad.
Jim rested his back against the surprisingly comfortable booth and closed his eyes. Blair watched and accepted that for the moment at least, he was the guardian.
Ten minutes later the burgers and salad were delivered. The food looked good and Jim, suddenly revitalized by the tantalizing odor, sat up and after adding mustard and ketchup, took his first bite.
"Not bad," he mumbled around a mouthful of juicy burger. "Not bad at all."
"Neither is the salad. Dressing is good and fresh."
Both men smiled. Unexpected treasures in unexpected places.
Jim wiped his mouth and looked down at his plate. Not so much as a crumb remained with only the greasy burger wrapper decorating the dish. He'd even eaten the dill pickle. Jim glanced over at Sandburg, eyeing the half of a burger on the plate in front of the younger man. Blair grinned and shoved it over. Jim happily dug in.
Jim polished off the rest of Sandburg's burger and licked his fingers. Oh, yeah, he felt much better now.
"Obviously the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," Blair teased.
"Sandburg, that is, at best, a temporary route and not recommended by the American Heart and Lung Association."
"And they would recommend?"
"It will be my pleasure to show you tonight."
"Well, well, aren't we feeling chipper all of a sudden."
"Yep. Hand over the keys, Toto."
Giving Jim an adamant shake of his head, Blair said "I don't think so. Three minutes after those tires start rolling, you'll be sound asleep. I'll drive and that way, old man, you just might have the energy to show me The American Heart and Lung Association's recommended route to at least this man's heart -- so to speak."
One eyebrow arched at the old man remark, but then Jim grinned slyly. "I do
Jim turned on the kitchen light as he watched his partner remove his jacket and head toward the stairs.
"Chief, how about I send out for dinner?"
Blair paused mid-step but didn't turn around. "Not really hungry, Jim. But you go ahead."
"Nah, no fun that way."
His words didn't faze Sandburg, who continued up the stairs. Jim followed the leaden footsteps, listened as the blue flannel shirt was removed, heard the gentle thud as shoes were toed off and the quiet whisper of denim as it slid down over Blair's hips...
Rooted to the spot, Jim realized he didn't have a clue what to do for his partner, how to help him. And it was weird because with the tables turned like this, he now had a complete understanding of how impotent Blair must have felt in Sierra Verde. And it was a damn epiphany.
How often had Sandburg struggled with Jim's senses? How many times must he have felt this impotence when faced with the question of how to help Jim?
And yet-Blair had always been successful-until-Alex.
Of course, Sandburg wouldn't see those successes, he wouldn't see that every single challenge had been overcome-by Blair.
And fuck, why did everything keep coming back to her? And how far would she actually go to capture the control she so desperately needed? Control that he now enjoyed with very little thought.
Spurred to action, Jim flicked off the kitchen light, double checked the doors and windows, then moved upstairs.
Reaching the top, he found Sandburg sitting motionless on the edge of the bed, wearing only his briefs. Noting the stillness of his partner and feeling the lurch his stomach gave at the sight, he realized that he was probably feeling much the same as Blair when witnessing one of Jim's zones.
Jim moved quickly to the bed and dropped down in front of the quiet man. He rested both hands on Sandburg's thighs and in a low, pleading voice, said, "Chief, don't do this to yourself, please."
Blair's head didn't lift, but Jim could just make out his words.
"she loved that car. a real classic."
"Blair, it was a thing, a mass of metal. And Megan doesn't blame you."
Sandburg looked up then, eyes blazing with anger. "Well I blame me. I did this, I'm responsible, no one else. Because I couldn't just be. I couldn't let it alone."
"Ah, God, Chief, you wanted to help her."
"Sure, I wanted to help her, but God damn it, I was ecstatic about finding another sentinel. My judgement and everything I ever learned from you flew right out the window. I was the biggest jackass God ever created and she's made some doozies in her time."
Jim stroked the side of Blair's face and smiled. "Well, if it helps, you're my favorite jackass."
Blair snorted, "It doesn't help, Jim. I blew it but was ready to learn, to move on, but now-more will be hurt and I can't do anything to stop it."
"We will stop her, Chief."
Blair seemed to focus on a spot over Jim's left shoulder as he said, "You know what's really weird?" When Jim shook his head, Blair went on. "I never helped her. I couldn't stop her pain, couldn't get her to learn to filter out. All I did for Alex Barnes was to tell her what she was and lead her to you."
Jim slid his hands up Blair's chilled and trembling body, then placed them on either side of the man's face, gently forcing Blair to look at him. "I love you, Blair Sandburg."
"Is that supposed to fix this?"
"Yes. Is it working?"
"It could, with a little extra effort-maybe."
Jim leaned in and let his lips brush Blair's. "Did I also mention that I'm very grateful to your God for bringing you to me?"
"Oh yeah, she's a great old dame. And aren't you the lucky one."
The tone of Blair's voice brought Jim up sharply and his hands gave Sandburg's face a little shake.
"Blair, we can't let her do this to us. Remember? Partners in everything, in all ways? What happened before, none of it matters. This is all that matters."
He kissed him then and this time he let his tongue tenderly seek entrance. Blair's mouth opened under his and the kiss deepened as Blair sought reassurance and security in the feel of Jim.
Jim rose until his body was flush against Blair's. He kept moving until Sandburg's back was pressed against the mattress, his own body covering the younger man's. As he focused his attention on Blair's neck, he could hear the low rumbling and realized that Sandburg was talking. He lifted his head.
"I swear, you have a one track mind, Ellison."
"Sex. All you ever think about."
"This from Mr. Sex? King of sex Sandburg?"
Blair snorted. "Yeah, right. King of the Nerds is more like it. Duke of Dorksville. Geek Supremus."
"Well, my little geek god, wanna have some sex?"
Blair's laughter bubbled up and smiling, Jim went back to attacking Sandburg's mouth and was very pleased when the laughter turned to moans that tumbled over one another and sent Jim's dick into orbit.
With some clumsy maneuvering and more laughter from Blair, Jim somehow got them both positioned in the middle of the bed. He then went back to turning the chuckles into lusty moans. And he was doing a pretty good job too, until Blair took control. Which was damn surprising. Not that Blair couldn't or hadn't before. They were equal opportunity lovers, but it had never happened quite like this. One minute Jim was lavishing love on his geek god and the next he was flat on his back, Blair's hands gripping his forearms like nobody's business. His face was centimeters from Jim's, eyes blazing black velvet, the irises almost totally eclipsed by the pupils. Sandburg's fingers dug in, bruising the flesh as his features seemed to contort in pain.
"blair?" Jim whispered the name softly, his breath ruffling through the hair hanging in his face, caressing his jaw.
"jim, she can't have you, not this time. not ever, do you understand me?"
He brought up his hand and laid it gently over Blair's cheek. "it's not me, chief. she doesn't want me. that's dead. because of us, it's dead."
The eyes searching Jim's face seemed almost-hypnotic.
"she can't have me either."
"no, she can't."
Blair's kiss was blistering, their lips fused by the heat. Fingers ripped at Jim's shirt, fumbled with his zipper, tore at sleeves, shoved, pulled and pushed until Jim was naked and Blair's briefs were history. And still-the kiss went on, with lips parting only long enough to solicit a promise, to claim, to urge words of need and love.
Someone got to the nightstand, to their supplies, but later Jim wouldn't remember who.
But what he did remember and would remember until the day he died and probably beyond, was the way Blair looked as he prepared Jim, as he slipped the condom over Jim's dick, then prepared himself, and finally as Blair positioned his body over Jim's.
In awe, Jim brought his arms up, grasped Blair's hips and watched, eyes full of love, as Blair lowered himself.
The smile given to Jim at that moment was-utterly sublime. Blair's eyes closed until Jim was completely sheathed within his body. Then he held himself in place-waiting-savoring.
The word was pulled from Jim as he felt all control leached from his body.
Blair moved slowly, drawing it out and teasing as he leaned forward, hands braced on Jim's shoulders, tongue flicking out. Jim's head lifted, lips parting, inviting, hands coming up, fingers burying themselves in the rich depths of thick, unruly and damp hair, the kinky curls capturing his willing fingers.
They devoured each other as Jim lifted his lower body and his lips rang with Blair's sudden groan.
And all bets were off. The two men began to move then, hard, urgent and fast, both working it, sharing it, needing it. Their combined climax, when it came, was almost indistinguishable from the experience as a whole and it wasn't until Blair collapsed onto Jim's body, legs still twitching, that Jim knew it was over.
Eyes closed, Jim stroked the sweaty back even as he buried his face deeper in Blairhair.
"she won't win, chief, i promise."
Blair lifted his head from Jim's shoulder and stared hard at the older man.
"No, she won't."
The weekend passed uneventfully if one didn't count the action in #307.
Jim and Blair found that leaving each other's side was virtually impossible. They had to touch, look and confirm-over and over again.
Outside the confines of 852 Prospect, Rafe and Brown went about their weekend quietly and carefully. And at Major Crime-the search for Alex Barnes continued.
For Simon, the weekend held only misery. Daryl had been scheduled to spend Saturday through Tuesday with his father, but Simon had wisely cancelled, to the supreme disappointment of his son.
Even though Simon's words on Friday had been aimed at Connor, Brown and Rafe, the fact was that he too had, of course, been at Rainier on that fateful day. He had to assume that he could be as much a target as the others. And he would not put Daryl in harm's way.
So he spent the weekend alone, talking to his son by phone and doing yard work, with the occasional foray to his office to double check the investigation. Which was going nowhere-fast.
By Monday, Sandburg was almost back to normal-or at least what passed for normal for him.
The bullpen was a flurry of activity when Ellison and Sandburg arrived earlier than scheduled, but none of the activity had anything to do with Barnes.
A threat to the Mayor-elect had been delivered via one of the many police snitches and the issue had been sent up to Major Crime. Two detectives not involved with the Barnes case, namely White and Sommerset, had been assigned to the Mayor, which left Brown and Rafe tackling their case.
And it was a strange one involving a man who'd been holding up whole families as they strolled the wooded area that was Furhman Park. The perp not only held up the families, stealing wallets, money and jewelry, he even took the children's toys.
Rafe was just leaving to meet Brown when Jim and Blair arrived and the three men shared a few quiet words of caution, ending with Rafe high-fiving Sandburg.
Simon came out of his office and caught Ellison's eye. The detective stood and dropped a hand on Sandburg's back to urge him up.
Ellison nodded toward Simon's office and with heart in throat, Blair stood and followed his partner.
As soon as the door shut behind Sandburg, Simon said quietly, "Rafe and Brown are on their way back in. They caught the perp at Furhman Park but something happened."
Blair gave an inward groan and waited for the other shoe to fall.
"You know Brown and his fetish for Roly Poly Donuts?"
Frowning, Jim and Blair nodded.
"Well, they were across the street from one of the shops and Rafe agreed to run over while Brown finished up. But on his way across Davis Avenue, a sports car came around the corner at approximately fifty miles an hour and nearly ran him down."
"He's okay, right, Simon?" Blair asked worriedly.
"He managed to dive for cover and the car zipped past him. He's banged up a bit, but otherwise, unharmed."
Jim had been watching Simon's face, and the fact that so far the large man had failed to make eye contact was enough to set off every alarm Jim possessed.
"What aren't you saying?"
Banks finally looked at Jim. "The car-it was identified by witnesses as a red Fiat-Spider."
Blair's fist slammed down on Simon's desk as he angrily barked out, "I don't fucking believe this."
Rafe and Brown had returned, Rafe looking a little green around the gills, Brown looking just plain angry. Rafe's jacket was a shambles and he was sporting a bruised face and favoring a sore shoulder. Now, an hour later, he, Brown, Ellison and Sandburg sat in Simon's office as Brown and Rafe were debriefed.
"Did any of the witnesses see the person behind the wheel, Brown?"
Henri shook his head disgustedly. "And you know, I wouldn't be so pissed if Detective Rafe hadn't landed on my jelly donuts. They're history, man."
"Hey, my own glazed wonders were in that bag too, Brown."
Blair had been silent since joining the others around the conference table, but he spoke up now.
"She made a mistake this time, guys."
"Yeah," Brown snorted, "She destroyed my donuts."
Giving the large black man a half grin, Blair added, "Well, other than that, there aren't that many Spiders around Cascade. And according to what we've found so far-none have been reported stolen."
Shaking his head at the puzzled faces around the table, he groaned and added for clarification, "Dealers, guys."
"Well, shit." Simon huffed around his unlit cigar, then added more calmly, "May I suggest you gentlemen get cracking?"
Blair was surfing the classifieds via the net while the others tackled the dealerships. As he perused the Fiat ads, his email system pinged. He moved to Outlook and opened the new mail, thinking it was probably Naomi.
At first-he was only puzzled. The addy was unfamiliar and a hotmail account. He opened the missive and as the words jumped out at him, he was immediately grateful that Jim was in Simon's office.
How long do you want to keep playing, Blair? And the Spider is already back with its owner. It was a nice test ride, but it's amazing the kind of trash you can run into out there. You know, he ended up face down too.
Before he could stop himself, Blair hit reply and began to type furiously.
Doesn't it worry you? Trying to play a game with a dead man?
He clicked on send and expelled the breath he'd been holding while he'd typed. And he immediately realized he'd made an error. He glanced guiltily over at Simon's office. Shit, he was a fool. Wiping his sweaty hands on a pant leg, he stood and walked slowly to Simon's door. Which opened and he found himself staring up into Jim's pale blue eyes.
"What is it, Chief?"
"Shit, sometimes this sentinel thing..."
Jim grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. "Spill."
"I just received an email from Alex. I-um, sort of-answered her."
"So she took a test ride from this guy?"
"Apparently. Trusting soul. She was gone thirty minutes, brought the car back and told him she'd let him know."
Simon sat at his desk holding two printouts as Jim filled him in on their activities since Blair had informed them of the email. Sandburg stood at the window, his back to the two men.
"And this Martin Shoop was able to identify her absolutely?"
"She's not trying to hide anything, Simon. She wanted us to track her to Shoop."
Simon glanced down at the email copy that Sandburg had sent to Alex, then up to the rigid back at the window. He wasn't sure he completely understood Blair's words but he was totally sure he didn't want to ask. Too raw, too emotional.
Jim had no such compunction.
"Chief, what exactly were you trying to tell her?" An elegant shrug was his only answer.
"Come on, Chief, that isn't going to work. What were you telling her?"
"Not to mess with us."
The rest of Monday was spent checking hotels, motels, rentals, anywhere that Alex could be hiding. Sandburg even suggested they check with vehicle leasing for RVs that might have been rented recently.
By five that evening-their work paid off.
Connor had checked with Brimley's Leasing and found that a woman matching Alex's description had rented a Shasta Travelmaster one week earlier. The rental agreement was in the name of Alicia Bannister and she'd paid in cash. She'd also possessed a valid Washington license.
Which meant that Vince Shaw had done more for Alex than poison Jim.
It was a tired, discouraged Simon Banks that trudged up the steps to his home. They'd made great headway-until it came time to try and actually find Alex and her Travelmaster. For a brief time, they'd been ecstatic. After all, how many places could one hide a mobile home the size of a Travelmaster? And she had to be somewhere fairly close. And yet, after three hours on phones and in the field, they'd come up with nothing.
It was now after eight and he was exhausted. He'd sent Ellison and Sandburg home thirty minutes ago and had quickly followed suit. Maybe tomorrow they'd have more luck.
He opened his front door and received the shock of his life.
Simon shut the door on the pizza delivery man and carried the large box into the dining room where his son sat, hugely pleased with himself.
"Daryl, this is not funny."
"Aw, come on, Dad. Just one night-I'll head back to mom's tomorrow morning."
He set the pizza down and took the chair next to his son. He couldn't completely hide his pleasure at seeing Daryl and as his son poured their sodas, he smiled.
"All right, one night, then home. You leave with me in the morning."
"You got a deal."
As he pulled out two thick slices and plopped them on his plate, he asked, "So you gonna tell me what the big case is that made you cancel our weekend?"
"Well, it's a big case."
"Gee Dad, thanks. Come on, you can tell me."
"Actually, son, I can't.
Daryl licked mozzarella and pizza-sauced covered fingers as he shot his father one of his patented come on, dad looks.
"Like, who am I gonna tell? Our high school newspaper?"
"Daryl, why don't you tell me how things are going with you and your mother?"
"Man, I hate it when you do that."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, maybe some heated up chili and cornbread?"
Twenty minutes later, Jim set a large steaming bowl of Sandburg's turkey chili on the table as Blair set down the cornbread. Two cold beers followed. They quietly took their seats and started eating.
Jim had polished off his first helping and was moving onto the second when Blair finally spoke.
"You said what you're feeling with Alex this time is different. What did you mean? What are you feeling?"
Jim swallowed and stared at Sandburg over his beer bottle. Then he tipped it the rest of the way and took a big swig. Setting the bottle down and wiping his mouth, he answered in as calm a voice as possible. Which was pretty calm, considering that this was mined territory.
"It's an itch, Sandburg. There, always, just under the skin."
Dark blue eyes narrowed. "Does it-increase? Decrease?"
"No. Just always there and before you ask-it started in the morgue and blossomed at the cabin."
Jim studied his partner's face for a moment, and convinced that there was only genuine curiosity, asked, "What's turning in that Dr. Frankenstein brain of yours?"
"I was just hoping, you know? That maybe, somehow, what you were experiencing could be used to find her."
"What, like some sort of compass, Sandburg?"
Smiling sheepishly, Blair nodded. "Yeah, something like that. You know, our very own Ellison Divining Rod."
Jim arched one eyebrow as his eyes narrowed. "Divining rod, Sandburg?"
"Well, it's not out of the ordinary to expect something like that. You're a sentinel, for crissakes. And let's face it, last time, as her crimes escalated, you got, well-weirder, you know?"
Resigned, Jim just shook his head helplessly. "Sandburg, you're the weird one in this relationship."
"Well, yeah, that goes without saying, but still... you'd think that if she got close-you'd get-itchier."
"Sometimes you amaze me."
"That goes without saying too."
With a patient sigh, Jim said carefully, "Chief, she hasn't come close yet. Don't you get it?"
"Jim, how can you say that? She was in Major Crime, at Megan's desk, at mine, she was there, man."
Jim just glared at his partner and as Blair's eyes widened in understanding, Jim nodded. "Now you've got it, Darwin. She was there but we, meaning you, weren't."
"Well, I'll be damned."
"And you have a degree, jeesh. The American educational system has some pretty heavy explaining to do, that's all I have to say."
The fork in Blair's hand dropped suddenly as he stared wide-eyed at his sentinel.
"Shit, you are a divining rod."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You acted pretty territorial at the station and she'd only been there-when we weren't. So what would happen if we were in close proximity to her?"
"How the hell should I-oh. I see."
Digging back into his bowl of chili, Blair chortled and said, "So tomorrow, we hit the road, Jack. With my own personal divining rod. Or in this case-Alex rod."
Jim leered at him for a moment, then said, "But tonight, you're gonna have to deal with your own personal-Blairrod."
Sandburg rolled his eyes.
Simon closed the folder, sat back, removed his glasses, pinched his nose, then rubbed his eyes. Daryl was in bed but the dining room table still held the evidence of their evening: Simon's own work, the empty pizza carton and Daryl's homework, which was spread out across from Simon. He smiled fondly at the neatly typed pages, handwritten notes and books encased in the red and white colors of Daryl's high school.
Simon stood, stretched and after straightening up a bit, tossing the remnants of their dinner and locking up, he walked down the hall and checked in on his son.
Daryl was spread out in his twin bed, covers tangled in his legs, one arm outstretched, palm up, fingers open. He was snoring lightly. Simon rested one hand on his son's back, then dropped a kiss on the top of his head.
Twenty-five miles away, a woman tossed and turned in a small bed in the back of a Shasta Travelmaster. Her eyes hurt, her skin itched and no matter how she tried, she couldn't get comfortable. But she wasn't worried. Tomorrow it would end. The game was in its final set and she would be the victor.
With great stealth, the cat moved through the dark, dense jungle. It stopped, lifted its head and sniffed. No scent. The black jaguar moved on.
It would continue until it dropped. Because somewhere in the forest-his mate needed him. A howl pierced the fragrant night air and the black jungle animal paused. Its head tilted first to one side, then the other. It took off at a run.
Long legs stretched out as the ears flattened back. Danger. Ahead. Its mate. The jaguar sped through the foliage, bounding over stumps and vines, breaking through the bush, speed growing as the sense of danger increased. Another howl filled his ears and the cat ran impossibly faster.
Close, so close now-
The sleek black jaguar charged into a clearing and thudded to a stop at the sight that greeted its blue eyes.
A spotted jaguar had its teeth buried in the now bloodied throat of a wolf. There was no life left in the canine. Blood flowed freely, turning the ground beneath black. The spotted jaguar lifted its mouth, blood dripping from its fangs. It raised its head to the skies and yowled its victory.
The black jaguar leapt.
Jim's eyes popped open, his breathing harsh, body covered in sweat. For a moment, he could neither see, nor hear. He was surrounded by inky blackness. It was inside of him, gripping his heart and squeezing relentlessly.
His arms rose, reached, found-nothing.
The one word was breathed out in anguish, in hopelessness. He was alone. Blair was gone-dead.
Warm, silent tears slid down his cheeks. He'd failed to protect. To save. To cherish.
"Jim? You okay?"
The low, mellow, beautiful voice penetrated his misery. He said the one word again.
"No, it's the wicked warlock of the west."
The words were light, but the look on Sandburg's face was anything but. His eyes were dark with worry as he stroked up and down Jim's right arm. Blair was on his knees, on the bed and naked as the day he was born.
Jim could have sworn Blair had gone to sleep in sweats. And socks. Old, grey socks.
"Nothing gets by you, does it?"
"why are you naked?"
"Why are you swimming in sweat?"
"you were gone-dead. I woke up and you weren't here and I couldn't see, couldn't hear..."
"well said, professor."
They were quiet. Blair continued to stroke easily and Jim took in his fill. He couldn't seem to get enough of just-looking at the younger man. As his eyes moved down the stocky body, he finally spoke.
"why are you naked?"
"I was taking a shower. You screamed loud enough to wake the de --, you screamed and I ran up here. Somewhere along the way, I lost the towel, okay?"
"and you were showering at," he glanced at the alarm clock behind Sandburg, "three-thirty in the morning, why?"
"Well, see, I was, like-hot, you know?"
"you were hot? You, Mr. Blair four layers of clothing Sandburg? In the winter?"
"I had this dream, okay? Satisfied now?"
Jim's lips twitched. "and let me guess-you were all sweaty?"
"Oh shut up."
Jim turned enough to reach out and pull the naked Sandburg down onto his chest. With one arm slung around Blair's back, holding him place, he lifted his head and kissed his captive as eager fingers wrapped themselves in shower damp hair.
When they parted, Blair was shaking his head.
"Is sex always going to be the answer?"
"Yup. Can you think of a better way to reaffirm? To make the ultimate connection? "
"We could try, say, bridge."
"Or maybe canasta?"
"Yeah, or," he paused, trying to remember the name of a card game his grandmother had mentioned...
Jim chuckled and said, "Sex is sounding better and better, Chief."
"And I was getting all ready for a rousing game of cards. Well fuck."
"The world is full of compromises, Chief."
"Give and take."
"How 'bout I give and you take?"
"Just as soon as you tell me what got you out of bed and into the shower."
"Jim, nothing, just a dream. No big deal."
Ever the skeptic, Jim said, "I told you mine, it's officially your turn."
Jim hadn't been completely truthful about his dream, but he'd shared enough to give his statement some validity. It worked.
"It was stupid. We were at the auto show."
Comprehension dawned. Ervin.
"Reliving something like the shooting is not unusual, Blair."
"I know, I know."
Jim sensed that Blair had just done a little of his own rearranging of the facts.
"Tell me all of it, Sandburg."
"I didn't-I wasn't-in time. He killed you and before I could pull the trigger-Ervin became Alex. And yes, I know, Freud would have a field day."
"Oh, I don't know, did the gun turn into a penis?"
Blair's mouth opened, then shut as his eyes blinked rapidly. Finally, a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth, he said, "Well, now that you mention it... it had a definite-feel to it."
Jim took Blair's hand and pulled it down. "Did it feel anything like this?"
"Yup, Freud would've had a field day with your dream."
Blair leaned in again and just before latching onto Jim's mouth, whispered, "freud can get his own-gun."
Alex Barnes couldn't move. If she tried, the pain would hit in waves. Anything brushing across her skin felt like knives slicing into her.
But she had to move. Now. The game was drawing to a close. Today-she'd play her final piece.
She closed her eyes, held her breath, mentally counted to ten and rolled over.
And nearly screamed.
This. Would. Not. Defeat. Her.
She had not survived this long to fail now. Life would not be so cruel. She tried to remember his voice-the way it had sounded in the Rose Garden at Rainier...
...soothing, warm, gentle-if she could just recapture that sound.
Breathe deep-let it all fade away-concentrate on the sound of your own breathing, your lungs expanding and contracting, the flow of your own blood through your veins...
Slowly, Alex sat up, then carefully swung both legs over the edge of the bed. For a moment, she swayed, then using every ounce of her steel will, she stood.
If she couldn't get Sandburg today-she seriously doubted she'd survive the week. Alex reached for the small tube bottle on the nightstand. She smiled as she read the label: Dramamine.
Vince Shaw had done a great deal for her-even if he'd failed to kill Ellison. And this bottle of Dramamine was one of his ideas. Of course, when he'd suggested it, he'd had no idea about her senses, he'd just thought she'd been wigging out.
"Don't laugh," he'd said. "But you know that stuff people take for flying?" And she'd nodded, which had prompted him to add, "Well, it works on the nerves, Alex. You should try it. The non-drowsy formula. My sister Ida swears by it." His sister Ida was doing five to ten in the federal pen for manslaughter. If she said Dramamine worked, who was Alex Barnes to argue?
And it had. If she took three or four at a time. The simple off the counter drug actually seemed to calm her senses. She twisted open the cap and shook five into her palm. She'd need a steady hand today.
Twenty minutes later she felt almost normal. She'd managed to shower and even choke down a piece of toast and lukewarm tea. Now dressed in a tank top and soft gauze pants, she gazed at the materials on the small table in the RV.
Red, green and white wires, a square of Plastique, a small clock face, three small gears...
Today-another member of Major Crime would experience checkmate. And Blair Sandburg would willingly come to her.
"Daryl, you've got five minutes!"
"I'm almost ready, but if you keep yelling, I'll forget something!"
"Well, get your butt in gear."
Daryl hurried into the kitchen, dropping his overnight bag and book bag onto a chair. His father was dishing up his famous one-eyed sandwiches and Daryl slid into the other chair.
He took a large swallow of orange juice and watched as two sandwiches were dropped on a plate. His father swung around and placed the dish in front of him. Daryl dug in.
"Um, just as good as I remember 'em. What made you fix these today?"
Simon smiled as he dropped the last two onto his own plate and sat opposite his son.
"Seemed a good idea. We haven't had them in awhile."
"Yeah, like-ten years."
"I'm sorry about that, Daryl."
"Hey, Dad, I didn't mean anything. I know what your life is like. You're a cop-a good one. I'm proud of you, you know?"
"You still planning on the academy right after graduation?"
Daryl glanced away and fiddled with his napkin. "Yeah, kind of."
He looked up then and met his father's gaze squarely, his chin lifting.
"Yes, yes I am. It's what I want, Dad."
Daryl expected anger so was completely unprepared for what he did receive.
"Um, well, I've got how many months to change your mind?"
"I graduate in June, Dad."
"Yeah, same month as Father's Day. So-plenty of time to show you the error of your ways."
The two men smiled at each other.
Daryl unlocked the door to his Volkswagen and tossed his bags into the back seat.
"So, maybe next weekend, Dad?"
"We'll try for it, Daryl, I promise. Say hi to your mother for me, okay?"
"I will." Daryl paused and then, in a move uncharacteristic of a seventeen year old, he hugged his father.
Five minutes later, the Volkswagen and Crown Victoria went their separate ways.
And a large RV pulled up in front of Simon's home.
"Sandburg, you're skittish."
"Are too. You jumped when I turned on the garbage disposal. You hit the wall when I turned on the blender-"
"That's because I couldn't believe you were fixing me an algae shake."
"And the reason you whipped yourself around so hard, you bit your tongue, when all I did was put my hand on your shoulder as you got out of the shower?"
"Um, erotic fantasies?"
"Come on, this is a sentinel you're talking to, not some schmoe on the street."
Sandburg held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I don't know what's wrong. Just-have this feeling. Like instead of butterflies in my stomach, I have a few hundred Pterodactyls flying around."
"You couldn't have just said a herd of stampeding elephants?"
"Tonight. On your ass. But for now-what do you think these few hundred Pterodactyls are trying to tell you?"
"I can distinctly hear them saying watch your back, watch your back."
"Sounds like good advice."
Alex stepped back to view her handiwork.
Damn fine job even if she did say so herself. After wiping her gloved hands on the side of her pants, she gathered up her tools, put them carefully back into the toolbox and exited the home the same way she'd entered: by the back door. With a little help from her superior skills as a master thief.
She opened the side door of the RV, set the box just inside and climbed in. She stood a moment, still undecided. She'd been arguing with herself for the last couple of hours. Wait nearby so that the call would be placed at its most advantageous moment, or simply call later that evening. The pain in her head and behind her eyes said wait nearby. She couldn't afford to fail. She knew that Ellison and Sandburg would come here, that Sandburg would remain outside-and that was when she needed to make the call.
Except-by now, they knew about her RV. And she couldn't risk Ellison getting close...
She climbed into the driver's seat, started the engine and drove off.
Fifty minutes later, a local cable van pulled up and parked on Chestnut. Five blocks south of Walnut-the street on which Simon Banks lived. The position of the van gave Alex Barnes a complete, clear and unrestricted view between houses and alleys-to Simon's home.
The bomb was not intended for Simon's arrival home; no, it was intended only to bring them all here.
In just a few hours.
She settled back to wait.
Brown sat at his desk, fingers drumming restlessly on a folder. Rafe was on the phone with another RV park and from the look on his partner's face-he was striking out. Again.
Henri glanced over at Megan and she too was on the phone, doing exactly the same thing as Rafe. He looked down at the list in front of him, the names and numbers of several RV parks staring back at him. But he found that he was unable to concentrate.
Because-he had to be next. And since arriving for work, Rafe hadn't let him out of his sight. Not even to take a leak.
Everyone knew he was next. And they were probably all wondering the same thing he was; how, when and what would she do?
Damn. Talk about nerve wrecking. He glanced over at Sandburg who was busy at the computer and the vision came unbidden-
The body-floating face down. Hair spread out, steam rising gently-
He remembered Simon fighting back the tears, Megan's stunned, disbelieving expression, Rafe looking lost and puzzled, and Jim-God, Jim.
And-the glow. Brown had never told a soul, never asked Rafe or Megan if they'd seen it too. But he knew it had been real.
Blair was on the ground-dead. Jim had been pulled back and the young paramedic had looked up and shaken his head and Jim seemed to freeze and that's when Brown had seen the glow. Around Sandburg.
And then Jim was down again, beside the body, and his hands were on Blair's cold, pale face and they moved over Blair's lifeless skin, almost as a lover would caress-
And then-Blair coughed. And he was alive.
It was impossible. All of it. But he'd seen it. They'd all seen it. Well, maybe not the glow, but they'd all known that Blair Sandburg was dead-and then he wasn't.
"Hey, partner, any luck?"
Brown was shaken from his reverie by Rafe's words. He blinked and shook his head.
"Well, keep at it."
"Yeah, man, sure." But Brown made no move to pick up the phone. Instead, he asked, "Rafe?"
Brown glanced over at the two desks, at Sandburg and Ellison, both deeply engrossed in their tasks. He dropped his voice low.
"We've never talked about it, you know?"
Rafe didn't hold the rank of Detective for nothing.
"What could we say, H?"
"He fucking," Brown shot a quick glance at Sandburg, then lowered his voice another octave. "He fucking died, man. He was gone, you know it and I know it. And we're not talking like-just no pulse, or like machines keeping things going-there was nothing to keep going. There was never a heartbeat, never a pulse, he was dead. He'd been dead."
"I know, I was there, remember? You've got to accept it for what it was, H."
"Oh, and what was that?"
"A miracle of love."
Daryl checked his watch. Shit. He had forty minutes left of his lunch period and he now knew exactly where he'd left his paper-on the catch-all table by the front door. He'd been in such a rush...
If he hurried, he could get to his dad's house and back in time for English Lit. He grabbed his stuff, slapped his two buddies on the back and took off for the parking lot.
Twenty minutes later he pulled into the driveway and leaving the car running, hurried up the steps to the front door. He inserted the key in the lock, turned it and pressed down on the handle. As the door swung open, a voice hailed him from across the street.
It was Mr. Edwards. He was waving and pointing at the ground.
"You dropped something, son!"
His wallet. Shit, he must have dropped it while fumbling in his pocket for the other set of keys.
He was halfway down the steps when the world exploded.
For Mr. Edwards across the street, one minute the young man was running toward what he'd dropped, and the next, there was a huge sound and the boy's body was flying.
Flames burst from the house and Edwards didn't stop to think. He pulled his cellphone from his pocket, hit speed dial one and when 911 picked up, he told them quickly and succinctly what happened. He also told them the home belonged to Captain Simon Banks. Then he rushed across the street to help Daryl Banks.
The call came in to Major Crime within ten minutes of the Edwards call to 911.
Simon tore out of his office, Jim trying to hold him back.
But it was Sandburg who stopped him.
"By the time you get there, they'll have transported, Simon. And it's Station 27, so they'll take him to Mercy."
Jim grabbed the keys from Simon's frozen hand.
Brown, Rafe and Connor stood protectively around their Captain while Jim stood at the corner of the hall trying to listen to the action in ER 2. Simon was seated in the waiting room just outside Emergency.
Blair had been right. The ambulance carrying Daryl had pulled in moments before the Crown Victoria. The paramedics were just lifting the gurney out as Simon ran up, eager to get to his son. Jim and Blair had to pull him back so as not to impede their progress into ER.
Daryl lay on his back, eyes closed, oxygen mask in place. The side of his face was badly bruised and there was a large contusion on his right temple.
All three men had followed the gurney inside and now could do nothing but wait.
And Blair stood back, on the fringes, watching.
His fault. His.
Taggert brushed past him and walked over to Simon, his face grim.
"It was a bomb. Rigged to go off at a specific time. It wasn't meant to-"
Simon lifted his haggard face. "It wasn't meant to hurt anyone? Is that what you were going to say, Joel?" His tone was bitter, his voice sharp.
Before Blair could catch Joel's response, a nurse tapped his right shoulder.
"Are you Blair Sandburg?"
He blinked down at her and nodded, surprised.
"You have a phone call. It sounded urgent."
Blair swallowed the lump in his throat. He knew who would be at the other end of the line. With a glance back at Simon and the others, Blair followed the woman around the corner to the phone. He lifted the receiver.
"I'm out front, Blair. Come now and it's over."
So much passed through his mind at her words. That night in the bullpen-when Jim had said he didn't think he could get past what Blair had done. The moment Alex had entered his office, gun in hand. Ervin's face as the bullet hit him, Megan, staring at what was left of her car, Daryl-so still-and Simon's face as he gazed down at his son...
"I'm on my way."
He hung up and headed for the front of Mercy Hospital.
Of course, Alex was wrong. It wasn't over, not for her. She didn't have a fucking clue. But she'd just invited the enemy into her camp. An enemy she couldn't beat.
He pushed his way out the front doors into the bright sun. At the red curb sat a cable company van. The door opened and Alex said, "Blair."
He climbed in.
No, it wasn't over-it was just beginning.